ONTARIO, Calif.—Greetings from the first Portable Media Expo, better known as podcasting's first proper convention. As a reporter, I've covered countless trade shows over the years, and at each I've secretly wondered why all these people travel from so far to gather in creepy convention centers, listen to endless speeches, eat overpriced pizza slices, and file dutifully past booths dedicated to the arcana of their chosen profession.
Now I know: because they want to be with other people who speak the same jargon as they do. As a podcaster, it's actually comforting to be able to discuss MP3 bitrates and tagging protocols with fellow human beings. God help me.
(And lest I start thinking, hey, this stuff actually is pretty interesting, I just peeked into the Portable Sanitation Association's exhibit one hall over; it's depressing, but I suspect most people would rather look at their displays than ours.)
Last week, I asked for some help to find the best university podcasts of lectures and talks. Thanks to everyone who wrote in. I've spent the last few days feeling like I'm back in college, and I mean that in both the positive and negative senses. A few of the lectures I listened to had that intense soporific effect I remember so well—however, it's much safer to experience that feeling in a lecture hall than in a speeding automobile. Listeners, be warned.
Another common problem is sound quality. While some of the talks sound fine, even very good, others sound like the audio track from a pirated DVD of A Beautiful Mind, recorded from the back row of a multiplex. Please, people, a little respect for our eardrums!
That said, you could easily spend every waking hour listening to the wide variety of college content out there. While I don't claim to have reviewed even a tiny fraction of it, here are two that should serve you well:
RUNNER-UP: Stanford on iTunes.
The sound quality can vary on these, and it gets demerits for only being available on iTunes (and darned hard to find on iTunes at that—make sure you use this link). Still, it's a good selection of talks from a university that attracts some of the country's most interesting speakers and faculty members. Browse through and download a few that sound interesting. Chances are you won't be disappointed.
But when it comes to the winner, there's no contest:
POD PICK OF THE WEEK: The University Channel from Princeton.
Several people wrote me about this one, and I'm glad they did. Although it's run by the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, this feed includes content from many other colleges and universities as well, including Columbia, Middlebury, Michigan, Texas, USC, even archrivals Harvard and Yale. (The UC Web site includes both streaming media and podcasts—click here for iTunes feed, here for Yahoo! feed.)
"More and more universities are recording these [lectures] for archival purposes," says Donna Liu, executive director of the University Channel Project. "I thought, well, why not get together on this and pool all of our resources, and then offer it up to the public in as many forms of distribution as we can dream up."
Not all the talks are available as podcasts, but Liu says more will be soon. So check it out, but note that these are mostly single lectures, not entire courses. When I asked Liu why they don't offer the latter, she had a reasonable response: "That is what Princeton students are paying tuition for."
Well, this week's Slate podcasts won't earn you a B.A. in anything, but they might make your weekend chores go more quickly:
Nov. 11: The Best Bookshop in the World ( Slate piece)
Nov. 11: Political Gabfest
Nov. 10: The Woman at the Washington Zoo ( Slate piece)
Nov. 9: He's Not Home, Officer. Come Right In! ( Slate piece)
Nov. 8: Are Cookies Really Monsters? ( Slate piece)
Nov. 7: Ban the Prom! ( Slate piece)
And watch this space next week for the debut of a new podcast feed from Slate: The Explainer. Details soon. We'll be looking for your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.